What is great and, at times, grating about golf is Spieth had no one to blame but himself for the miss at 18 – or, for that matter, the five missed fairways on the first seven holes. Since Spieth turned professional at the end of 2012, he has largely controlled his fate.
Much is made of how cruel golf can be on days when one’s biorhythms, swing or both are off, as was the case Thursday with the 2014 champion, Rory McIlroy, who made bogeys on five of his first six holes in his round of 71. There is no bench for a struggling golfer to escape to and gather himself, no teammate to pick up the slack.
Like Spieth, who chose golf over baseball, Stuart Manley of Wales was a two-sport standout. In 1995, a 16-year-old Manley had tryouts with Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Luton. A promising midfielder, Manley decided to focus on golf.
“Some people say I should have gone professional, or whatever, in football,” he said.
After opening with a 68 on a cold, wet and windy morning, Manley, the 520th-ranked golfer in the world, explained his chosen path. “I loved golf,” he said. “I didn’t really like football. It just got too pressurized.”
How so? “I don’t know, I felt like I was playing for a contract, whereas this is in my own hands,” Manley said. “If the scouts or the manager didn’t like me, I could have been kicked off or not offered a contract. I think in golf, nobody can take away your scorecard. You sign for a 68, that’s what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how you’ve done it.”
This summer, Spieth, who won the Travelers Championship in his last start, has seen what Manley means. He has had a close-up view of how arbitrary team sports can be as he watches the dawning of the pro basketball career of his younger brother, Steven.
A standout player at Brown, Steven Spieth played recently for his hometown Dallas Mavericks in the N.B.A.’s Summer League and had 31 minutes over four games to prove his worth to the talent evaluators gathered in Las Vegas.
Jordan Spieth, who gave up basketball and baseball in his teenage years to concentrate on golf, said his brother’s path to a pro career “is definitely more difficult.”
“Being an individual sport, you control your own outcome,” said Spieth, who gained his PGA Tour membership in 2013 through his results.
He added: “I loved going out there and putting in the work and the ball is never going to somebody else. It was always in my hands. And therefore, I think Steven wishes the ball was in his hands as much as possible, but it’s got to be passed around. And, therefore, credit can sometimes be given elsewhere.”
Spieth, 23, doesn’t perform in an isolation chamber, though. After signing for his first under-par opening round in a major since the 2016 Masters, Spieth gave an assist to his longtime instructor, Cameron McCormick, who encouraged him to deviate from his conventional warm-up and use the TrackMan, a radar system that tracks a golfer’s swing and ball flight.
In windy, cold and wet conditions, McCormick said that he suspected that Spieth might need to adjust his club distances. Spieth complied and was shocked when his four-iron shots, which were traveling 220 to 225 yards in Dallas’s 90-degree heat last week, topped out at 190 in the 55-degree chill.
That knowledge came in handy on the 499-yard, par-4 sixth hole, historically the hardest on the course. Spieth used his 4-iron for his second shot, into a headwind similar to what he encountered on the range. His ball traveled 192 yards to the front of the green, and he two-putted for a par.
McCormick picked up a second assist for the stick of mint gum he gave Spieth before the round. There is science to back up Spieth’s success in chewing gum and shooting the day’s low round at the same time. Multiple studies have shown that gum chewing can boost concentration, wakefulness and memory because of increased blood flow, and with it, oxygen, to the brain.
“Payne Stewart used to do it and it served him well,” Spieth said, referring to the three-time major winner who died in 1999. “I think mint has some sort of effect on nerves.”
But that is not why he was still working the gum after his round.
“I was one-under through two and I thought I better keep it in.” Spieth said, adding, “It’s probably about time for a new piece.”